Blog

Your Education Road Map

Politics K-12®

ESSA. Congress. State chiefs. School spending. Elections. Education Week reporters keep watch on education policy and politics in the nation’s capital and in the states. Read more from this blog.

Education Funding

Education Department Issues Directive on Shielding Students in Poverty From Funding Cuts

By Andrew Ujifusa — June 09, 2021 5 min read
Image of a $100 dollar bill that is cut into blocks for distribution.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

New guidance from the Biden administration details how states and certain school districts must protect high-poverty districts and schools from funding cuts as a condition of receiving their share of some $122 billion in COVID-19 relief money approved by Congress in March.

The guidance announced Wednesday about provisions of the American Rescue Plan comes as the administration launches a public relations blitz on equity issues, including release of a report confirming concerns many educators have raised about the pandemic’s impact on vulnerable students and on student mental health.

“For the first time ever, these [maintenance of equity] requirements will ensure that school districts and schools serving a large share of students from low-income backgrounds will not experience disproportionate budget cuts—and that the school districts with the highest poverty do not receive any decrease in state per-pupil funding below their pre-pandemic level,” the department said in a statement unveiling the guidance, which is nonbinding. “In addition, high-poverty schools will also be protected from disproportionate cuts to staffing.”

The newly spelled out “maintenance of equity” requirements under the American Rescue Plan say states receiving the COVID-19 can’t cut funding to their highest-poverty districts—as determined by rank order, starting with the district with the state’s highest poverty rate—that collectively enroll 20 percent of the state’s students. They also can’t cut funding disproportionately to “high-need” districts—again, as determined by rank order—that collectively enroll 50 percent of the state’s students. Fiscal 2019 is the year officials must use to compare spending levels.

Under the emergency funding law, districts themselves are also subject to maintenance of equity requirements that shield high-poverty schools from disproportionate funding and staffing cuts. However, a significant share districts are exempt from these requirements, such as those that enroll fewer than 1,000 students.

Learn more about maintenance of equity here.

Among other things, the new U.S. Department of Education guidance says that these “maintenance of equity” requirements apply to the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years. However, the guidance says that even though the test for meeting these requirements must account for those years after the fact, states should not delay in getting the relief money to districts. In theory, that could make it harder to put real teeth into the requirement when it comes to enforcement, since the money will have already gone out and largely spent.

The guidance also says officials must rely on poverty estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau when determining which districts and schools must be shielded from state and local funding cuts; states must use Title I data if that census information isn’t available for a district, such as for charter school districts. And states must provide baseline data for maintenance of equity requirements to the Education Department by July 30 of this year, although they can seek an extension until Oct. 15.

States and local school districts also should not include spending on capital outlays and debt service when determining their expenditures, according to the guidance.

However, some in the education field already had voiced concern about the impact of the equity requirements embedded in the American Rescue Plan. There’s worry, for example, that it doesn’t account for how local school budgets actually work.

Cardona’s department starts a big equity push

As part of its push on equity concerns stemming the pandemic, the Education Department also announced that it will hold an “Equity Summit Series” starting on June 22. It will feature U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten, and others, and will focus on how schools can adopt new strategies and priorities to ensure they reflect the needs and desires of underserved communities, and how they can adopt culturally and linguistically responsive learning experiences.

In addition, the department released a report from its office for civil rights detailing the preexisting disparities in education that the pandemic exacerbated.

On the K-12 front, the report found, for example, that COVID-19 “appears to have deepened the impact of disparities in access and opportunity facing many students of color in public schools, including technological and other barriers that make it harder to stay engaged in virtual classrooms.”

Last year, a report from a coalition of education groups found that children in 1 in 3 Black, Latino, and American Indian/Alaska Native households lacked high-speed internet, which can cripple students’ ability to keep up with remote classes and school work.

And for both K-12 and higher education, the office for civil rights’ report stated that, “Nearly all students have experienced some challenges to their mental health and well-being during the pandemic and many have lost access to school-based services and supports.”

The report also highlighted how Asian-American students have been at greater risk of violence, harassment, and discrimination in both K-12 at postsecondary institutions, and how LGBTQ students in K-12 have faced heightened risk of anxiety and stress while potentially losing school-based support groups, peers.

Experts have been studying natural disasters to determine how schools can support students’ future mental health needs during and after the pandemic, unprecedented as it is.

“It is important to recognize that disparities can sometimes be evidence of legal injuries under Federal civil rights laws, even when policies and practices do not directly single out a group of people for harm,” Suzanne B. Goldberg, the acting assistant secretary for civil rights, wrote in an introduction to the report. Goldberg highlighted Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination by race, color, and national origin in education programs that receive federal assistance.

On Wednesday, the department also highlighted President Joe Biden’s fiscal 2022 budget request from late last month that includes a proposed $20 billion “equity grant” program. Learn more about that here.

Events

School Climate & Safety K-12 Essentials Forum Strengthen Students’ Connections to School
Join this free event to learn how schools are creating the space for students to form strong bonds with each other and trusted adults.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Infrastructure & Management Webinar
Future-Proofing Your School's Tech Ecosystem: Strategies for Asset Tracking, Sustainability, and Budget Optimization
Gain actionable insights into effective asset management, budget optimization, and sustainable IT practices.
Content provided by Follett Learning
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Funding When There's More Money for Schools, Is There an 'Objective' Way to Hand It Out?
A fight over the school funding formula in Mississippi is kicking up old debates over how to best target aid.
7 min read
Illustration of many roads and road signs going in different directions with falling money all around.
iStock/Getty
Education Funding Explainer How Can Districts Get More Time to Spend ESSER Dollars? An Explainer
Districts can get up to 14 additional months to spend ESSER dollars on contracts—if their state and the federal government both approve.
4 min read
Illustration of woman turning back hands on clock.
Education Week + iStock / Getty Images Plus Week
Education Funding Education Dept. Sees Small Cut in Funding Package That Averted Government Shutdown
The Education Department will see a reduction even as the funding package provides for small increases to key K-12 programs.
3 min read
President Joe Biden delivers a speech about healthcare at an event in Raleigh, N.C., on March 26, 2024.
President Joe Biden delivers a speech about health care at an event in Raleigh, N.C., on March 26. Biden signed a funding package into law over the weekend that keeps the federal government open through September but includes a slight decrease in the Education Department's budget.
Matt Kelley/AP
Education Funding Biden's Budget Proposes Smaller Bump to Education Spending
The president requested increases to Title I and IDEA, and funding to expand preschool access in his 2025 budget proposal.
7 min read
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on lowering prices for American families during an event at the YMCA Allard Center on March 11, 2024, in Goffstown, N.H.
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on lowering prices for American families during an event at the YMCA Allard Center on March 11, 2024, in Goffstown, N.H. Biden's administration released its 2025 budget proposal, which includes a modest spending increase for the Education Department.
Evan Vucci/AP